Raising Awareness Of Microplastics In The Ocean

Marine biologists Professor Chou Loke Ming and Dr. Neo Mei Lin discussed the topic of microplastics pollution in the oceans with members of the public.

AsianScientist (Sep. 28, 2018) – Efforts are underway to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of plastics in the ocean nearly three times the size of France. But perhaps the plastic that we can see is the least of our concerns. Microplastics—tiny pieces of persistent polymers less than five millimeters in length—are scattered throughout the world’s oceans. Because of their small size and large number, microplastics are incredibly difficult to separate from water.

At a seminar titled ‘The Big Problem of Microplastics’ co-organized by Wildtype Media Group and real estate developer City Developments Limited, marine biologists Professor Chou Loke Ming and Dr. Neo Mei Lin engaged some 100 members of the public in a discussion about the negative impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems.

“Recent research shows that microplastics have an almost immediate bleaching effect on corals,” Chou explained.

Coupled with global warming and ocean acidification, coral reefs are being damaged at an unprecedented scale. Because reefs serve as homes and food sources to a host of other aquatic creatures, the loss of underwater habitats has severe repercussions on the overall health of the oceans.

“Microplastics in the oceans also travel up the food chain and could negatively impact human health,” Chou added.

Research from Neo’s lab supports this view—barnacles, which are at the lower levels of the food chain, ingest the tiny plastic particles during the larval stage and these particles persist even after the larvae mature. Fish and crabs that feed on the adult barnacles are therefore also exposed to microplastics, which accumulate up the food chain until they end up on a dinner plate somewhere.

Neo noted that consumerism contributes to the problem of plastic waste in the ocean. Plastic packaging and utensils are pervasive in society, and people seldom pause to think about what happens when these items are discarded.

“Being aware of our actions and making small changes to our behavior can go a long way in reducing pollution of our oceans,” she said.

While governments and corporations are beginning to take steps to address the problem of excessive generation of plastic waste, Chou thinks that it will be some time before the situation improves. Nonetheless, individuals have a huge role to play in bringing about and accelerating a change in attitudes towards plastic use, said Neo, highlighting how she is inspired by many young people who have independently banded together to champion marine conservation and raise awareness about ocean pollution.

“Action from the ground up, involving youths, is extremely important to reduce the problem of microplastics in the ocean,” she concluded.

Following the panel discussion, Dr. Rebecca Tan, managing editor of Asian Scientist Magazine, presented an Asian Scientist Junior book set to Ms. Esther An, chief sustainability officer of CDL, in acknowledgement of CDL’s contribution of S$10,000 to make the books available to primary schools across Singapore. Chou is among the six scientists featured in the book series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Wildtype Media Group/Cyril Ng.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Jeremy received his PhD from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where he studied the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer progression.

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